Exercise 3

On Press

This brief asked me to read the Adrian Pipes’ On Press chapter from his 2009 Production for Graphic Designers manual and consider which aspects of the print process might feed into my creative decision-making process. I then needed to consider which parts of the print process might feed into my creative decision-making process. The brief asked, “Where do the connections between artist and craftsperson sit within your work?

First, I struggled to find the chapter on OCA Learn, so I found a second hand copy of Alan Pipes’ ‘Production for Graphic Designers (5th ed.)’ and read chapter 6 – On Press. I skimmed over the paper section, as I had read this previously, and focused on the rest of the chapter. I’m actually really pleased that I have a copy of this book now, because it’s full of invaluable information to help with decision-making during book design.

Pipes, A. (2009) Production for Graphic Designers, 5th edition. London: Laurence King Publishing

The overall message of this chapter is that the printing process is the section of book production that the designer or artist has the least hands-on control over. However, we have the ‘power of choice’ – we can make decisions about the printer we use, the paper, the ink, the binding, the finishes – every choice is ours, but we won’t necessarily be doing the work to create the finished product. Right at the start of the chapter, Pipes talks about ensuring the book has a good layout, used quality scans and that the designer has thought carefully about paper choice. There are also comments about budget, which is of course more of a consideration for an independent artist or a small-scale publisher.

First, I read about ink choices, which was very interesting. I noticed that vegetable oils are now being used to replace mineral oils in inks (which caught my attention because Mixam – the printer I intend on using – mentions vegetable inks on their website) and this improves rub resistance, brightness and saturation. The relationship between ink and paper is also worth considering. For example, recycled papers tend to be more absorbent and not be quite as bright white, which can impact the colour brilliance and saturation. It totally depends on the effect you desire for the final product – all of these choices make a difference.

I learnt about the different printing techniques, such as offset lithography, letterpress and digital, as well as browsing through an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each process. There is also a useful section about what can go wrong when printing and all the key terms. I feel like this might come in handy during the next exercise, when I will try printing images onto different types of paper with my home printer!

There were also sections about different finishes. Lamination is something I have spotted as an option on many printers’ websites; this was described as adding strength as well as gloss. UV lamination (a more expensive process on printing websites) doesn’t take as long to cure.

Finally, Pipes discusses folding and binding. Perfect binding is often an option on printing websites. Pipes specifies that this requires good glue.

Reflecting on this chapter, I feel like the main message is that we, as book designers, have choices during the printing process, but don’t necessarily oversee the process. The printing aspects I’ll be thinking carefully about as a creative are:

  • Paper choice: This will be heavily informed by the type of book I am creating and the effect I want this to have on the reader. Do I want something sleek, glossy, bright and luxurious, or something textured, rough, earthy and more natural? Which will suit my content? How will this impact the colours/ink finish?
  • Format: This will need to be ready for printing. In my notes below, you’ll see I investigated my options with Mixam so I know what format choices I have and how my documents will need to be sent to the company. I also want my decision to be based on the content – how will the book be read/transported? What effect do I want the pages to have? The layout ties in closely with this.
  • Finishes: Do I want anything extra on the covers or pages, like embossing or foiling? What effect will this have on the reader and how will it help communicate my content?
  • Binding: How do I want the pages to be bound and how will this choice impact the way the book is read?

During the wait for this book to arrive, I made lots of notes in my sketchbook while researching printers and options for this final production process. Unfortunately, as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions are still in place, I wasn’t able to visit my local printers, so I researched letterpress printing, offset printing and watched a video showing a printer (similar to my local one) creating, printing and binding books. I really enjoyed learning about each process and noted the differences and similarities.

For my final project, I’ve already specified some budget restrictions and how these may impact my choice. Mixam was recommended to me by some other OCA students and so I know they provide a good service. They also have so many customisation options, considering the whole consultation process is online. I was also delighted with the option of sharing a digital version of the book via email before printing, as this means I can share my work with my tutor and others for a final check. It seems like the best-suited option, considering the current circumstances.

I’ve found this exercise extremely helpful and a great insight into the printing process. I’m quite excited to take a project from ideation to the finished product using a professional printer. The research and reflection has also helped me to understand what decisions I’ll need to make when designing and creating my final book – everything hinges on what I want the book to communicate. As Alan Pipes put it, “we have the power of selection” during the printing process.

Mixam Paper and Product Samples

My samples arrived! It’s wonderful to actually hold the paper in my hands, feeling both the weight and texture, as well as seeing the finish of the colours and the way the ink sits on the paper. My favourites are the uncoated, for its texture, and the natural, for its texture and appearance. I like the idea of using recycled paper – my thoughts about my final project surround using old material I wrote and ‘recycling’ it to create something new, so I feel like this would have some nice symbology to it. Also, I appreciate recycling as a process and think it would be great to show this in my paper choices. The texture makes the experience of turning a page more tactile and uncoated/unfinished paper brings back so many memories of reading paperbacks. It has a lot of sentimentality for me.

I also adore the soft touch laminate, which I’m considering for a cover. It has such an immediately comforting and interesting texture. I like the symbology of this too – picking up a book and straight away feeling comfortable, welcomed and connected.

I’m really pleased I have these sample materials now – they will come in handy when I make decisions about my final book and the effect I’m going for. Although I have initial thoughts, I am very open to changing my mind based on the direction my project goes in – having options gives me the freedom of choice.

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